Written by: Damon Kayzee

Two years ago 3D scanners cost around $30,000.  Yesterday they cost around $3,000.  Today, they can be downloaded for free straight to your Smartphone.  Two apps, 123D Catch and Trimensional, are leading the way for free (or cheap) portable 3D scanners that yield impressive results.

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123D Catch

In short, this app allows you to take 20-40 pictures of an object and transforms it into a digital 3D model.  The user should take as up to 40 pictures of an object from as many different angles as possible.  With the press of a button those images are uploaded onto the cloud where the Autodesk team takes over.

Autodesk is the company that released the 3D modeling software AutoCad that has become the industry’s standard CAD software.  They take your photos and they find common points to determine what angle the picture was taken from.  From there, they paste the images together to from a full 3D model which they send back to you.  The price of this service?  Free!

Once you have your 3D file you can edit it to your heart’s content before you print it out.  If you don’t have a 3D printer, no worries! There are a handful of companies, such as Shapeways and Sculpto, who specialize in printing and shipping 3D models.  



Trimensional is a simpler version of 123D Catch, but with some added benefits.  After downloading this app the user turns of their lights and takes a picture of an object.  The light from the Smartphone shines on the object in four different ways enabling the software to create a 3D image of the photo.  This process all happens on your phone in an instant, and does not require the use of the cloud.

Once the file is saved the user can email their files to friends, family, or directly a 3D printer.  You can also save the file as an animated GIF or as a movie file.  There is even an option to engrave your scans into crystal.  This app does not allow for 360 degrees of capture, so the final product is more like a 3 dimensional object popping out of a flat plane.  A simple version of this app is priced at $0.99, and a more advanced “MakerBot version” can be purchased for $4.99.

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